India presses Pakistan to hand over suspects

Border buildup goes on

breakthrough unlikely at regional talks in Nepal

January 04, 2002|By Paul Watson | Paul Watson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KATMANDU, Nepal - As regional leaders gathered here to talk about getting along better, India kept the heat on rival Pakistan by insisting again that Islamabad hand over at least 20 alleged terrorists and criminals for trial.

The two nuclear powers continued to mass forces along their border yesterday in a crisis that flared Dec. 13 when militants attacked India's Parliament, and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh offered little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough during a summit of South Asian leaders here.

By repeating that Pakistan must extradite the men before India puts any evidence in front of a judge, Singh stirred the embers of a conflict that threatens to erupt into all-out war.

"They include proven terrorists, proven criminals, narcotics dealers," Singh told reporters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital. "The entire repertoire of crimes against humanity that you can think of is what these 20 have done.

"Why should they find shelter in Pakistan? And why should Pakistan be interested in providing them shelter? I'm simply unable to understand."

Although the two neighbors don't have an extradition treaty, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar has left open the possibility of turning over suspects for trial if an Indian court rules that there is sufficient evidence against them.

But Singh insisted yesterday that New Delhi already has provided enough proof to Pakistani authorities over the past eight years and called the demand from Islamabad for more "completely unacceptable."

Singh said he understands it "will take a little time" for Pakistan to deal with a terrorism problem that was 20 years in the making. But his charge that Pakistan is sheltering people guilty of crimes against humanity was hardly the more conciliatory tone that Washington has been pressing for to avert a war.

"India is not interested in escalating anything," Singh said. "It is our hope that Pakistan will work seriously toward what they themselves have announced, that it is their intent to act against terrorism. That must be in deeds and not simply in words."

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, says he is willing to meet with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the two-day summit of seven regional leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. It begins today.

But Indian officials have said repeatedly that neither Musharraf and Vajpayee nor their foreign ministers are likely to hold peace talks during the Nepal summit.

"I'm not here to conduct India-Pakistan relations," Singh said.

Before leaving for Nepal yesterday afternoon, Vajpayee sounded a more moderate tone than in recent days. "War is not a must," he said. "Efforts are being made to avoid war through diplomatic channels. If that succeeds, there will be no need to opt for other alternatives."

But Vajpayee's rhetoric has swung from belligerent to conciliatory and back again several times since five gunmen attacked the Parliament buildings last month, killing themselves and nine other people. India has blamed the attack on Kashmiri separatists based in Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Vajpayee warned that India will "use every weapon in self-defense, and if the enemy suffers in the bargain, we shall not be responsible for it." It was a not-so-subtle reference to India's nuclear arsenal, which it has pledged not to use first. Pakistan has yet to state a "no first use" nuclear policy.

Paul Watson writes for The Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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